The Hippo


May 26, 2020








Balloon named “Passion.” Photo courtesy of A&A Balloon Rides.

Soar through the sky

High 5 Ballooning
Based in Derry. See, 893-9643. Ride costs $200 per person.
A & A Balloon Rides
Meeting location in Salem. See, 432-6911. Ride costs $200 per person for a sunrise flight.

Up, Up and Away
Take your date on a soaring adventure

By Allie Ginwala

Nothing says “romantic” quite like enjoying scenic views of nature, but if you want to bump that view to the next level, add a little bit of adventure with a ride in a hot air balloon. 

“[Balloons] have mysticism about them and it's such a special thing to do to float through the sky unpowered,” Tony Sica, owner and pilot of High 5 Ballooning, said in a phone interview. “It’s such a unique form of aviation.” 
Typically, hot air balloons take off from a field or another open space and begin with a meet and greet, safety briefing and time to sign waivers. Next, the pilot and a couple of crew members start setting up for takeoff.
“They [the guests] are invited to pitch in and help so they get the full experience, a little like whitewater rafting,” Andre Boucher, pilot for A & A Balloon Rides, said in a phone interview. “The pilot and crew set up the basket and the burner and then hook up the balloon and then help to carry the balloon away from the basket. And then it's good to have one or two [people] to help to keep the balloon open when we put cold air in it.” 
After a few minutes the balloon stays open on its own, which Boucher said makes for a good ground-level photo op. 
Once it’s up in the air, Mother Nature is the navigator for the approximately hour-long balloon rides, which often take off at sunrise.
Northwest is the prevailing wind, Sica said, so most of his flights are going to the southeast, giving guests views of Boston, the ocean, the Presidential Range, and even Mount Katahdin and the Berkshires on a clear day.
He tries to get every flight up to about 1,000 feet — which on a clear day gives a view of Mount Washington — though the Boston skyline is visible at 400 feet and the ocean at 600 feet. 
“Ballooning has a calming effect on people,” Sica said, even though he estimates that 40 percent of people come in saying they have a fear of heights. 
“What most people have is a fear of falling, and a fear of falling is a visual fear,” he said. “But a fear of falling never happens in the balloon because [the balloon] never triggers the fear.”
Boucher said the sensation of falling — like what one may feel standing on top of a ladder — is eliminated because you’re no longer attached to the ground. 
“Most people are not afraid of heights in the balloon because you have the railing all the way around you,” Boucher agreed.
In his years as a pilot, Boucher has had a lot of couples take a ride in the balloon to celebrate special occasions like an engagement, anniversary or even a wedding. 
“There’s no noise, and we have a soundtrack playing in the background so it's just a great thing to do,” said Sica, who noted he’s had 197 proposals and five marriages aboard the balloon thus far.
Boucher recommends crossing a hot air balloon ride off the list of first date ideas because of the cost, saving it instead for a special date down the road, like opting for a balloon ride instead of an anniversary dinner. Or you can combine the two with a post-ride picnic.
Feeling like something was missing from his flights, Sica decided to add a lunch on to the end of each balloon ride. 
“Because I’m Italian, and I have to feed people,” he said. 
After every flight, guests are invited to a picnic lunch with Champagne to wind down after the high-flying adventure. 

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